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Old 03-02-2010, 06:26 AM   #1
pdurrant
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Copyright infringement terminology

The question of how to describe the act of obtaining a first digital copy of copyright material without the copyright holder's permission has frequently appeared on Mobileread.

I think there are three groups on Mobileread. Those who insist on describing it as theft. Those who are equally insistent that this is inaccurate, and that it is really copyright infringement. And the vast majority who wish that the first two groups whould just shut up .

I'm mostly in the second camp, although sometimes I join the third.

But it's just occurred to me that there might be room for compromise. Because copyright infringement applies to any unauthorised copying. If I buy an ebook, and then duplicate it 1,00 times, I have infringed on the copyright. For example, Amazon's terms of use for ebooks does not grant me the right to make backup copies of content, only "to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content ". (emphasis added)

So what's the difference between infringing copyright by burning a copy of a purchased ebook to CD-R for back-up, and infringing copyright by downloading a copy from some dodgy server on the internet?

It seems clear to me that there is a difference, and that calling both copyright infringement (although technically correct) doesn't reflect this difference. Infringing copyright by obtaining your first copy of a digital work is, it seems to me, qualitatively different to duplicating digital content locally.

Similarly, it seems clear to me that there's a qualitative difference between going into a bookshop and taking a book without paying for it, and downloading a digital copy of the book from some dodgy server on the internet. Calling both theft doesn't reflect this difference. (As well as being technically incorrect — I did say I was mostly in the second camp).


Is it possible to come up with a term for the act of obtaining digital copyright material without payment or the permission of the copyright holder that both groups could agree on, that distinguishes between innocuous copyright infringement on the one hand, and actual theft on the other?

Suggestions for a new term welcome. I'd prefer it not to be a term for an existing crime — so not piracy or bootlegging.

Or you can just argue that I'm completely wrong, and that theft or copyright infringement is the only sensible term to use.

I hope I don't regret posting this...
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Old 03-02-2010, 07:01 AM   #2
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Thanks for this. May be interesting to see what people think, but I don't have a lot of confidence that it won't devolve into the usual round and round back and forth.

As far the topic itself, I don't know about new terms, but I do feel the old laws, definitions, and understandings are increasingly inappropriate to the brave new world we find ourselves in.
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Old 03-02-2010, 07:06 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
The question of how to describe the act of obtaining a first digital copy of copyright material without the copyright holder's permission has frequently appeared on Mobileread.

I think there are three groups on Mobileread. Those who insist on describing it as theft. Those who are equally insistent that this is inaccurate, and that it is really copyright infringement. And the vast majority who wish that the first two groups whould just shut up .

I'm mostly in the second camp, although sometimes I join the third.
Like you, I'm in the second and third camp

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So what's the difference between infringing copyright by burning a copy of a purchased ebook to CD-R for back-up, and infringing copyright by downloading a copy from some dodgy server on the internet?

<snip>

Similarly, it seems clear to me that there's a qualitative difference between going into a bookshop and taking a book without paying for it, and downloading a digital copy of the book from some dodgy server on the internet. Calling both theft doesn't reflect this difference. (As well as being technically incorrect — I did say I was mostly in the second camp).
Problem with today's laws is that they don't and cannot cover all new media. So, companies try their best to scare you into compliance. (thou shalt not make copies of our books, or else!) So, they add those things into their EULA and hope that everybody will listen to it (or we'll sick our lawyers onto you!) No matter that that EULA goes against some basic rights.

Over here, you have a rule that you can make as many copies of a music piece (be it music cassette, LP, CD, DVD, MP3 and any other format) as long as you make the copy yourself and it is for your own use. (so, "format shifting" is allowed) (but what about DRM?). For books (paper!), it says you cannot reproduce it by putting it under a copy machine (or scanner), only parts of it can be reproduced. Naturally, this was never a problem as who wanted to scan an entire book and leave that in the house somewhere?? Software has another rule, you are allowed to make 1 copy of it (hey, and what about copy protection! another thing not anticipated...)

Enters the electronic book. Now, is this like an MP3? Or a piece of software? Or even like a pbook? They never thought about DRM on MP3 files, copy protections on software, why should they have thought about electronic books?

So, people are now unsure where that belongs. Is it strange they'll shove it under the MP3 rule? So, you can make as many copies of it, format shift if you need, as long as you don't redistribute and do it all yourself.

Now, about "stealing" that book. Let's for argument's sake say the original ebook was bought and then redistributed (not scanned from a "stolen" copy of a pbook....)

If you shoplift a pbook, you steal from the owner (the bookstore) as he has paid the publisher for that book. The author still gets his share (the publisher doesn't care whether the book owner sells or not) for that one book, even though the second reader never paid for it. But then, he could have bought it second hand and the author wouldn't have seen a cent from it either. But at least somebody would have profited from the exchange of possessions (or in the least, nobody "lost" anything).

If you download an ebook (which was originally bought by the one who is offering it online now), you don't steal from the original owner. He still has access to his book. The author still had his share (as the original owner paid for it and we'll just presume the publisher sends the author his share of the money, I've heard of cases where this didn't happen, but that's beside the point). The book still gets read by two persons, one of who never paid for it, that's true. But again, there is no "loss" of anything, except a potential sale. So, there might be a loss or there might not be a loss... (I think in most of the cases there won't be a loss of sale, as most downloaders are hoarders anyway...)

Is it theft? No, I don't think that word is correct. Also, who is the wrong-doer at this point? The downloader or the one who offers the book online? I'd say the second. He was allowed to make a copy of it, but not to offer it to a third person.
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Old 03-02-2010, 07:37 AM   #4
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Thanks for this. May be interesting to see what people think, but I don't have a lot of confidence that it won't devolve into the usual round and round back and forth.
I brought popcorn!

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Originally Posted by Sweetpea View Post
...

Over here, you have a rule that you can make as many copies of a music piece (be it music cassette, LP, CD, DVD, MP3 and any other format) as long as you make the copy yourself and it is for your own use. (so, "format shifting" is allowed) (but what about DRM?). For books (paper!), it says you cannot reproduce it by putting it under a copy machine (or scanner), only parts of it can be reproduced. Naturally, this was never a problem as who wanted to scan an entire book and leave that in the house somewhere?? Software has another rule, you are allowed to make 1 copy of it (hey, and what about copy protection! another thing not anticipated...)

...
That would be The Netherlands, I assume The Danish laws are a bit more liberal - and the British a bit more restrictive, AFAIK.
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Old 03-02-2010, 07:41 AM   #5
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I brought popcorn!

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Old 03-02-2010, 08:20 AM   #6
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@Sweetpea
In our (Dutch) law it is explicitely allowed to download but not offering copies. So your last paragraph is also correct according to our law (some month ago the government was talking about changing this rule, however).
And the article in the law that allows you to make an electronic copy of CD's and other media doesn't even talk about audio, music or video. Therefore it also applies to ebooks, even though they may not have thought about that when the law was made. So also making a scan of your pbook and converting it to an ebook is allowed, contrary to making a pcopy, where you are only allowed to copy a small part. But you must do it yourself. And only for private, non-commercial use. The only exception is to software and databases where this is not allowed. But an ebook is not software similar to an MP3 file or a plain text file not being software.

And of course other countries have different laws.

Last edited by pietvo; 03-02-2010 at 08:21 AM. Reason: Made clear that this is a response to Sweetpea, as others crept in between.
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:32 AM   #7
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Personally I think "format shifting," "backups," and any copying as long as it is for personal use should be regarded as a "personal fair use" -- and this should apply to DRM removal, EULA, etc. Unfortunately this concept isn't explicitly written into existing laws, so it depends on the judge interpreting existing precedents and such. It's too bad that "intent to distribute" isn't part of the prerequisites that defines a copyright violation. I don't know if this what Pdurrant was looking for, but the intent to distribute is where I see the distinction.
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:36 AM   #8
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@Sweetpea
In our (Dutch) law it is explicitely allowed to download but not offering copies. So your last paragraph is also correct according to our law (some month ago the government was talking about changing this rule, however).
I know. And I agree with that ruling (not the new, proposed one! They should shoot Kuik away from the solar system as fast as possible! Without life support, naturally.)

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And the article in the law that allows you to make an electronic copy of CD's and other media doesn't even talk about audio, music or video. Therefore it also applies to ebooks, even though they may not have thought about that when the law was made. So also making a scan of your pbook and converting it to an ebook is allowed, contrary to making a pcopy, where you are only allowed to copy a small part. But you must do it yourself. And only for private, non-commercial use. The only exception is to software and databases where this is not allowed. But an ebook is not software similar to an MP3 file or a plain text file not being software.

And of course other countries have different laws.
The law doesn't specifically name formats for the copying of CD's and other media, but it does specifically name software and pbooks. The question remains, what is an ebook? Is it media? Is it a book? Is it software? Because it's all three... (and if you want to include those silly people who talk about taxes, you'll have to include service in that group well ).

You can say it's not software, but it is a book. And thus you shouldn't be allowed to make a copy of it. (electronically or otherwise is always mentioned, btw...), but it's also a form of media and thus you should be allowed to make a copy of it.

Redistributing is always against the law, no matter what...
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:37 AM   #9
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To answer the original question, how about "copywrong"? Self explanatory and descriptive--you are copying when it is wrong to do so.
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:42 AM   #10
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Problem with today's laws is that they don't and cannot cover all new media.
We hear that argument every day. Similarly, we are often told that the law has failed to keep pace with new technology. But I wonder if it's really true.

Copyright law in general doesn't deal with media or technology. It deals with creative work. It's not concerend with the medium in which the work might happen to be stored or the methods available for copying it.

If the law limits your right to make copies of my latest novel, it makes no difference if the novel is published as a paper book, as an ebook, as an audio book, or as some sort of literary hologram that hasn't been invented yet. And any restrictions apply equally whether you are photocopying a piece of paper, copying a digital file, or even reading the book alound into a tape recorder.

The fact that it's a thousand times easier to copy a computer file than it is to photocopy a book doesn't change the intent of the law.

Of course, there is an argument that says that you have to copy an ebook in order to use it - if only to copy it from the computer on which you download it to your reading device. But that should be covered either by the terms and conditions on which the book is sold, or by common conventions and customs. If the law doesn't explicitly cover that case, that doesn't mean it has failed to keep up with technology.

I can't help thinking that the argument that copyright law hasn't kept up with technology is too often used as a justification for not observing the law.

Note that I'm not talking about any particular piece of legislation here, or about the law in any particular country, but rather about the basic concept of copyright and the legal framework that embodies it.
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Old 03-02-2010, 08:47 AM   #11
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I find myself in the first and third camps, mostly, but also agreeing with some of the second camps points. I find this all fascinating because I am currently studying instructional technology for a class (just started) and we are looking into Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

A Native is someone who grew up with computers and all the digital media we have today. They speak the language fluently, and are the multi-tasking, forward thinkers of tomorrow. An Immigrant is someone who grew up before computers and, while making adjustments and learning the language, still have an 'accent'. They do not automatically turn to the internet for research, emails might be followed up with a phone call to see if it was received, instead of sending a link to an interesting website they would call others into their office to see.

I would honestly have to place myself in the Immigrant category, just going by the fact that I didn't touch a computer until a senior in high school, and then to learn 'basic' programming. I am pretty much bilingual now, but find myself reverting to my native ways at times.

I am wondering where those on each side would find themselves, as 'Natives' or 'Immigrants'. That might shed some light on our thoughts. Should I start a poll, just for kicks?
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Old 03-02-2010, 09:46 AM   #12
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My first "computer use" was an analog kit I built when a teenager in the early 60's. Didn't really have exposure to digital computers until about '72 or so when I began to learn programming in Basic as an extracurricular activity during my first year of college. I continued to study and learn electronics and computer and eventually got my degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and have been fully immersed for almost 30 years now....I guess that puts me in the "immigrant" category, but feel more like a native than most since I grew along with and am "in the industry."
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Old 03-02-2010, 09:51 AM   #13
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Oh no! It's a 'need a new word thread'! Has Dan Bloom hijacked PDurrant's ID?
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Old 03-02-2010, 09:55 AM   #14
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I think we should call it "Deft" that's my nomination. (better than liesues or whatever that silly word is )
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Old 03-02-2010, 10:08 AM   #15
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Oh no! It's a 'need a new word thread'! Has Dan Bloom hijacked PDurrant's ID?
No, I'm still me (I think). But yes, I regret that this is, in essence, a 'need a new word' thread.

But perhaps the incidental discussion will, for once, generate more light than heat.
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